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Column: We're not alone when it comes to physician retention challenges

A column on Estevan's physiscian recruitment and retention efforts and issues.
doctors, physicians, recruitment, retention

Estevan has seemingly been in a cycle when it comes to physicians since I’ve been here.

Twenty years ago, I remember hearing that we were down to eight practising doctors in the community, and there weren’t enough for a community of this size.

After that time, it would be a recurring theme every few years. It bottomed out in 2011, when you could count them all on one hand, and we needed locums and a sudden influx of doctors to meet the needs of our community.

The difference now is it seems like our lower physician count occurs every two or three years instead of every four or five years.

One physician left earlier this year and three more are scheduled to leave before the end of June. We have some more coming, but local residents are skeptical how long the new ones will last when they can leave after two or three years.

When a doctor does leave, the finger pointing begins almost immediately. People will blame hospital management or one of the existing doctors in the community. Others will claim it’s due to the money made in Estevan.

Perhaps some physicians who have left here have had qualms with management or a colleague or even the community as a whole, but there’s a bigger factor involved that is the biggest reason why they leave.

Estevan isn’t alone as far as having recurring physician shortages or doctors leaving the community after a couple of years. Most towns, small cities and bigger centres in the country are experiencing this issue, have gone through this issue within the past year or two, or will encounter this problem in the next couple of years.

International physicians have helped address the shortage, but we don’t have enough of them.

People might question why we aren’t producing more medical doctors who were born and raised in Canada, but reality is that this is a demanding job. There’s a limited number of people out there with the intelligence, ability and compassion to be a doctor.

It’s a high-pressure job that takes an emotional toll on even the most dedicated of people. The past two years of the pandemic have only exacerbated the issue. 

We’ve seen that Estevan is able to bring physicians here. Keeping them has been a problem.

We’re not just competing with Regina and Saskatoon once a doctor is able to move on. We have to compete with Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa. You hope that you can attract a physician who prefers that small-city atmosphere. But then they have to convince their families that a small city is the place to be.

We don’t necessarily think it’s very far from Estevan to Regina or even Winnipeg. But other people will say otherwise.

Estevan is so fortunate to have physicians who have stayed here for decades, who settled here and raised their families here. (One of them has a daughter who now practises in Estevan). But we have to recognize that the days of a physician coming here and staying here are becoming increasingly rare.

This is not to say we should have a defeatist attitude when it comes to doctor recruitment and retention. We have to do everything possible to get them here and keep them here. But we also have to realize how competitive it really is.

We also need to be supportive of the physicians we have here and those who are looking to come here. It’s more than just saying “welcome” when you first encounter them in the community.

Some people have a penchant for bad-mothing our doctors and medical professionals on social media every chance they get. It’s very detrimental to our community. Why would a doctor want to come here when keyboard warriors, many of whom won’t even use their real name,  are constantly bashing them.

If you have a problem with a doctor, channel your complaint through the appropriate area.

We’re lucky to have the doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff that we have in this community. We’re fortunate to have a hospital like St. Joseph’s.

But we have to realize the competition that is out there for their services, and that’s the biggest hurdle we face in keeping them here.